What do I love? About what am I deeply passionate? What “tugs at my heartstrings” and drives my decisions?
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
– Colossians 3:2, NIV-1978
Translators have a difficult task because, often, the task of translating a phrase from one language and culture to another language in an entirely different culture, if done literally, carries with it a high likelihood that those immersed in the recipient culture/language will be left scratching their heads, wondering what is truly being said and meant.
So it is with our target verse above. It seems like such a simple phrase, but there is more complexity to it than we realize.
If we explore Colossians 3:2 in our small groups and try to get at its meaning, we might discuss what is involved in “setting our minds” on a subject. From this, I might suppose we are being asked to think a lot about the afterlife and kind of just roll with this life. Don’t get too attached to material things – cars, boats, houses. We could certainly make a case for this, drawing on other scriptures for support.
But that’s not really what this verse says.
The root term in question here is φρήν (phrén or phrein). In verb form it is φρονέω phroneó. If we are literal about our translational work, the verse says something like, “Set your diaphragm on things above.” Though it is a noun there is something of a built-in call to action with the use of this term. It carries with it an almost visceral quality.
This idea is not entirely foreign to us. When we are faced with a terribly difficult decision, our friend asks us not what we think. No, she says, “What does your gut tell you?” And we know exactly what she’s asking.
That’s phrén. That’s “Set your gut on things above.” There is a strong emotive aspect to what we are being directed to do here.
The statement in Colossians is recorded in the imperative voice, so it’s not like this is a mild suggestion. It is a strong, authoritative call to action.
Consider the strength of Jesus’ statement when he rebuked Peter with “Get behind me Satan.”1 What lie behind the strength of that rebuke?
We find the answer in the follow-up statement. “You do not have φρονεῖς (a gut) for the things of God but the things of this world.” So vital is the φρήν to a disciple’s walk that a misdirected one earned Peter a terribly strong rebuke from King Jesus.
One of the most positive and uplifting letters the apostle Paul wrote is his letter to the Philippians, yet this same letter contains an agonizing statement, dare I say, a “gut-wrenching” statement.
For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.
– Philippians 3:18-19, NIV-1978
Their destiny is destruction. Their god is their belly. They glory in shame. Their φρονοῦντες is on earthly matters. This makes them an enemy of the cross!
In his letter to the Romans, Paul artfully lays out the conflict between the Spirit and the flesh before saying:
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds [φρονοῦσιν] on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds [φρονοῦσιν] on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind [φρόνημα] on the flesh is death, but to set the mind [φρόνημα] on the Spirit is life and peace.
– Romans 8:5-6, ESV
As the graphic above suggests, “Fuel Your Passion,” but be certain you’re passionate about things that are eternal. This is the core of Long-View Living. Matters of eternity are of far greater weight than anything that is constrained to this life alone.
1. Matthew 16:23
For further pondering of the same term and concept:
2:2 – make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.
2:5 – Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
3:15-16 – Therefore, all who are mature, let’s have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that to you as well; however, let’s keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.
4:2 – I exhort Euodia and I exhort Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.